Friday, October 7, 2016

Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life [2016]

MPAA (PG)  CNS/USCCB () (2 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (C-)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB () review
Los Angeles Times (K. Walsh) review (S. Wloszczyna) review
AVClub (J. Hassenber) review

Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life [2016] (directed by Steve Carr, screenplay by Chris Bowman, Hubbel Palmer and Kara Holden based on the book [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by James Patterson [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb], Chris Tebbetts [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb] and Laura Park [GR] [Amzn]) is a fun if slanted (naturally against "the Man") Ferris Bueller [1986]-like diversion about a contemporary American suburban Junior High / Middle School (from Hell) where the chief "devil", Principal Dwight (played by Andrew Daly), clearly found the current test-score-driven "state of affairs" in the American school system to his liking. 

Indeed, some 10 years back he published a school hand-book with at least 86 rules (or was it over 130 ...) that he enforced without exception to produce a school full of autonomons, who unsurprisingly tested _really, really well_ ;-).  The motivational slogans in the hallways included: "Assimilate," "Listen to your Teachers," "Authority is Good."  (Well kids, please do listen to your teachers, but teachers / principal please be well rounded / empathetic _enough_ to be worthy of being listened to ;-). 

Of course, in this film Principal Dwight (no doubt named after Eisenhower, though _he_ actually was _very liked by his troops_ ... it was MacArthur who was more of the "prima dona" ...)

Anyway, into this little "suburban North Korea"  falls a seventh grader named Rafe (played wonderfully by Griffen Gluck ;-).  (Seriously folks AS A COMPANION PIECE, if you'd like to see a remarkable documentary about _an actual otherwise cute-as-a button_ little North Korean girl who _really_ was going to a true "school from Hell" (in North Korea) find / rent Under the Sun [2015] available for streaming on It's WELL WORTH THE VIEW).

Well ... Rafe had some issues.  His little "Irish twin brother" (15 months apart) died of cancer a couple of years back, and his parents (mom, played in this film again quite excellently by Lauren Graham) broke-up over the death.  As such, Rafe had retreated into his own world for a couple of years, doodling quite creatively into a special notebook of his, and ... as such found himself _not performing well in school_ enough so that at story's start, he had been expelled already from two schools and this "Academy" again "from Hell" seemed to be "his last stop."

So ... soon it's "game on" ... Principal Dwight vs this  quite sensitive / creative 12 year old, half-orphan named Rafe.  Who's gonna win?  Well ... guess ;-) ...

Folks, this is a cute if more-or-less obviously slanted film.  And I do have to say that BOTH of the Principals that I worked with in my years at Annunciata Parish on Chicago's South East Side WERE VERY NICE PEOPLE and while _yes_ there were some rules, WE ALSO HAD A REMARKABLE ART PROGRAM and OUR SCHOOL'S KIDS ALWAYS DID REALLY WELL both at Annunciata and IMHO even more remarkably AFTER THEY LEFT.  There were years when _our entire graduating class_ went on to make the Honor Rolls of EVERY SINGLE HIGH SCHOOL that our kids went-on to attend.  Honestly, this was quite a remarkable achievement ... and honestly most of our kids left our school with good memories / smiling ;-)

That said, this was a fun / cute film and does ask (ADULTS above all) the question: Where do we want to put our priorities? in simply rules or in training our kids for life?

All in all, a quite good / excellent children's / family film.

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